Let's share best practices on diversity to speed up change
A view from Kate Rowlinson

Let's share best practices on diversity to speed up change

Black Lives Matter has exposed adland's failings. Collaborating on ideas could drive progress faster, the boss of Britain's biggest media agency says.

The Black Lives Matters protests have shown us many things, but one in particular: when it comes to diversity and inclusion, our industry has failed. 

As a collective, we tried, but we didn’t try hard enough. We thought we made progress, but much of it was lip service. We wanted to make a change, but too much remained the same. 

Until now, the diversity and inclusion discussions rumbled on, but to what end? A decade of hot air and half-measures has meant our industry has failed to create meaningful change. The Black Lives Matter protests have put all of our policies under a glaring spotlight and revealed an unpalatable truth: we have made little difference to the lives of black and Asian people. 

And as the world of media and advertising wakes up to its failures, acknowledging and addressing them, we must use this moment as a spur for real change.  

For our own part, while MediaCom UK has long-established programmes in place that aim to boost diversity, these are by no means perfect and we have had persistent challenges that have yet to be solved. 

For example, we’ve worked hard to increase our intake of black, Asian and minority-ethnic apprentices and executives – where we chart above the industry average and in line with the London population – but we have more to do to ensure that we retain and progress this talent to a senior level. 

And although we listen to all our employees with an annual culture survey, there are gaps between BAME and white employees when it comes to their sense of belonging, feeling able to challenge unacceptable behaviour and retention rates. 

There should not be any competitive advantage in implementing D&I initiatives. If we want to eradicate racism from our industry, this is something we all need to do together. As the UK’s largest media agency, we have a duty to be a leading light in driving industry change. And to do this, we need to be visible, open and ready to share the policies that have been successful. 

To this end, we believe there are three key areas that we – and the wider industry – need to address and better educate ourselves around.

Our teams

Our employees will never feel truly valued, safe or supported until we practise what we preach, with a diverse and inclusive culture running through all levels of our business – both junior and senior. 

We must look at how we can improve our recruitment and retention of BAME employees – particularly at higher levels. We need clearer policies when it comes to mentorship, support and promotion tracks. 

And elsewhere, we must be better at championing allyship – empowering our teams to call out and eliminate microaggressions, racial bias and unconscious hostility wherever they see it.  

Our work

MediaCom works with clients all across the UK and in multiple categories, requiring us to engage with multiple demographics, cultures and ethnicities. Unless our organisation reflects this diversity, we cannot produce campaigns that truly capture the lived experiences of our audiences.  

We are still a long way off being able to do this, but we hope that the creation of a dedicated inclusive planning process, which ensures that talented and creative individuals who are part of and understand minority communities are involved in every client campaign, can begin to address the problem.  

Our sector

WPP has already made strong commitments to combat racial injustice and we are taking this commitment seriously within our own agency. While we are part of a group, we have an individual responsibility to fight against racism. And as a leader in our industry, this responsibility is doubled – MediaCom UK must be at the front of the charge. 

In line with this, we are changing our stance; the D&I policies and initiatives that work for us will be shared with the wider industry and among our vast group of WPP agencies – something we hope will accelerate learning and drive a better future.  

Here is our promise: if you find our D&I work interesting, you can have it.

We would ask others in our industry to make a similar commitment – we don’t profess to have all the answers and, as an agency, MediaCom UK is also keen to learn. 

We are ready to work with other brands, other agencies and industry bodies – such as the IPA, the Advertising Association and ISBA  to bring about positive change and, crucially, measure and chart our success. Campaigns such as Project Diamond will be critical and we will be working hard to do our part in making it a success. We are already working with our clients and ISBA on a Project Diamond for advertising which we are looking for help with.  

The time for talking is long gone. Currently, we are fast-tracking a roster of campaigns and programmes that will target microaggressions, make inclusive planning mandatory, set BAME targets at each and every level in our company and provide improved minority sponsorship and support. 

And this is just a start; real progress means radical change. We must hold ourselves to account with tangible goals and unflinching measurement. And this must be coupled with an uncompromising approach to equity, rather than simply equality.

This is not the last you will hear from myself or MediaCom UK on this topic. I will soon discuss some of our upcoming initiatives that we hope will set up on a long-term journey to deliver effective diversity within our industry. 

Kate Rowlinson is chief executive of MediaCom UK